tv [untitled] March 7, 2012 8:30am-9:00am EST
mitch mcconnell. i have always enjoyed the opportunity to discuss with him not only this issue, but other issues as well. climate change -- what we developed at the cia was an intelligence branch of the cia that focused on that issue for intelligence purposes because of the implications that these changes might have with regards to national security. our example, when we encourage greater drought, when we incur areas that have less rain and are incurring unusual climate impacts, it creates, obviously, an impact in terms of the population. we have to be aware of it because it could create chaos. we have seen it in africa and other parts of the world.
we need that type of intelligence. in addition, because of the ice there are indications of rising oceans. we have seen that take place. our concern is how will that impact our ports, our facilities, our low lighting levels that could be impacted by that. we continue to try to get intelligence on that as well. in addition, obviously, we do look at the polar ice caps and are able through imagery determine what is happening with polar ice caps and how quickly they are melting and what the impact will be as the polar ice cap melts, national security implications are that countries like russia and others are going to be looking for the opportunity to go into those areas and try to go after the
resources. they have already made claims to that effect. as it melts and as those opportunities increase, there are countries that are going to assert themselves, trying to gain access to the resources that are there. that also constitutes an issue that relates to national security. from an intelligence point of view, it is important to keep track of those trends. this is not about the battle of climate change and the issues related to that. this is about what we are seeing happening and the intelligence that flows from that. that is important for us to consider as we look at issues that could threaten our national security. [applause] >> i want to thank the secretary for a wonderful conversation tonight. we appreciate you being here.
mr. mccain: after a year of bloodshed, the crisis in syria has reached a decisive moment. it's estimated that more than 7,500 lives have been lost. the united nations has declared that syrian security forces are guilty of crimes against humanity, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilians, the execution of defectors and the widespread torture of prisoners. bashar al-assad is now doing to homes what his father did to hamah. aerial photographs procured by human rights watch show a city that has been laid to waste by assad's tanks and artillery. a british photographer who was wounded and evacuated from the city described it as a -- quote -- ," a medieval siege and slaughter," the kinds of mass atrocities that nato intervened in libya to prevent in benghazi are a reality in homes.
indeed syria today is the scene of some of the worst state-sponsored violence since milosevic war of crimes in the balkans or russia's an nile hraeugs -- annihilation of the chechnyan city of grahzi. a spree continued despite severe pressure against him. his regime is almost completely isolated. it's been expelled from the arab league, rebuked by the united nations general assembly, excoriated by the u.n. human rights council and abandoned by nearly every country that once maintained diplomatic relations with it. at the same time, assad's regime is facing a punishing array of economic sanctions by the united states, the european union, the arab league and others. measures that have targeted the asets of assad and his henchmen,
cut off the central bank and other financial institutions, grounded serious cargo flights and restricted the regime's ability to sell oil. this has been an impressive international effort, and the administration deserves a lot of credit for helping the problem is the bloodletting continues. despite years of diplomacy backed by sanctions, assad and his top lieutenants show no signs of giving up to take the path into foreign exile. to the contrary, they appear to be accelerating their fight to the finish, and they're doing so with the shameless support of foreign governments, especially in russia, china and iran. a steady supply of weapons, ammunition and other assistance is flowing to assad from moscow and tehran, and as "the
washington post" reported yesterday, iranian military and intelligence operatives are likely active in syria, helping to direct and sharpen the regime's brutality. the security council is totally shut down as an avenue for increased pressure, and the recently convened friends of syria contact group, while a good step in principle, produced mostly rhetoric but precious little action when it met last month in tunisia. unfortunately, with each passing day, the international response to assad's atrocities is being overtaken by events on the ground in syria. some countries are finally beginning to acknowledge this reality as well as its implications. saudi arabian qatar are calling for arming opposition forces in syria. the newly elected kuwaiti parliament has called on their
government to do the same. last week, the supreme allied commander of nato, admiral james stavridis, testified to the senate armed services committee that providing arms to opposition forces in syria could help them shift the balance of power against assad. most importantly, syrians themselves are increasingly calling for international military involvement. the opposition syrian national council recently announced that it is establishing a military bureau to channel weapons and other assistance to the free syrian army and armed groups inside the country. other members of the council are demanding a more robust intervention. to be sure, there are legitimate questions about the efficacy of military operations in syria and equally legitimate concerns about their risks and uncertainties. it is understandable that the
administration is reluctant to move beyond diplomacy and sanctions. unfortunately, this policy is increasingly disconnected from the dire conditions on the ground in syria which has become a full-blown state of armed conflict. in the face of this new reality, the administration's approach to syria is starting to more -- to look more like a hope than a strategy. so, too, does their continued insistence that assad's fall is -- quote -- "inevitable." tell them to the people of homs. they will them to the people of hamla or the other cities that assad's forces are now moving against. nothing in this world is predetermined, and claims about the inevitability of events can often be a convenient way to abdicate responsibility. but even if we do assume that
assad will ultimately fall, that may still take a really long time. in the recent testimony of the armed services committee, the director of national intelligence, james clapper, said that if the status quo persists, assad could hang on for months, probably longer, and that was before homs fell. so just to be clear, even under the best-case scenario for the current policy, the cost of success will likely be months of continued bloodshed and thousands of additional lives lost. is this morally acceptable to us? i believe it should not be. in addition to the moral and humanitarian interests at stake in syria, what is just as compelling if not more so are the strategic and geopolitical interests. put simply, the united states
has a clear national security interest in stopping the violence in syria and forcing assad to leave power. in this way, syria is very different than libya. the stakes are far higher, both more america and some of our closest allies. the regime in syria serves as the main forward operating base of the iranian regime in the heart of the arab world. it has supported palestinian terrorist groups and fund arms of all kinds, including tens of thousands of rockets to hezbollah and lebanon. it remains a committed enemy of israel. it has large stockpiles of chemical weapons and materials and has sought to develop a nuclear weapons capability. it was the primary gateway for the countless foreign fighters who infiltrated into iraq and killed american troops.
assad and his lieutenants have the blood of hundreds of americans on their hands. many in washington fear that what comes after assad might be worse. how could it be any worse than this? the end of the assad regime would sever hezbollah's lifeline to iran, eliminate a long-standing threat to israel, bolster lebanon's sovereignty and intelligence and inflict a strategic defeat on the iranian regime. it would be a geopolitical success of the first order. more than all of the compelling moral and humanitarian reasons, this is why assad cannot be allowed to succeed and remain in power. we have a clear national security interest in his defeat, and that alone should incline us to tolerate a large degree of risk in order to see that this goal is achieved. increasingly, the question for u.s. policy is not whether
foreign forces will intervene militarily in syria. we can be confident that syria's neighbors will do so eventually if they have not already. some kind of intervention will happen, with us or without us. so the real question for u.s. policy is whether we will participate in this next phase of the conflict in syria and thereby increase our ability to shape an outcome that is beneficial to the syrian people and to us. i believe we must. the president has characterized the prevention of mass atrocities as -- quote -- "a core national security interest." unquote. he has made it the objective of the united states that the killing in syria must stop, that assad must go. he has committed the prestige and credibility of our nation to that goal, and it is the right
goal. however, it is not clear that the present policy can succeed. if assad manages to cling to power or even if he manages to sustain his slaughter for months to come, with all the human and geopolitical costs that entails, it would be a strategic and moral defeat for the united states. we cannot, we must not allow this to happen. for this reason, the time has come for a new policy. as we continue to isolate assad dip diplomatically and economically, we should work with our closest friends and allies to support opposition groups inside syria, both political and military, to help them organize themselves into a more cohesive and effective force that can put an end to the bloodshed and force assad and his loyalists to leave power. rather than closing off the prospects for some kind of
negotiated transition that is acceptable to the syrian opposition, foreign military intervention is now the necessary factor to reinforce this opposition. assad needs to know that he will not win. what opposition groups in syria need most urgently is relief from assad's tank and artilleryt are still contested. homs is lost for now, but iglib and hamla and cusair and derra and other cities in syria could still be saved. time is running out. assad's forces are on the march. providing military assistance to the free syrian army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save
innocent lives. the only realistic way to do so is with foreign air power. therefore, at the request of the syrian national council, the free syrian army .ree syrian army . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . centers in syria, especially in the north through air strikes on assad's forces. to be clear, this will require the united states to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country. the ultimate goal of air strikes should be to establish and defend safe havens in syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against assad. these safe havens could serve as platforms for the delivery of humanitarian and military
assistance, including weapons and ammunition, body armor and other personal protective equipment, tactical intelligence, secure communications equipment, food and water and medical supplies. these safe havens could also help the free syrian army and other armed groups in syria to train and organize themselves into more cohesive and effective military forces, likely with the assistance of foreign partners. the benefit for the united states in helping to lead this effort directly is that it would allow us to better empower those syrian groups that share our interests. those groups that have rejected al qaeda and the iranian regime and commit to the goal of an inclusive democratic transition as called for by the syrian national council. if we stand on the sidelines, others will pick winners, and
this will not always be to our liking and in our interests. this does not mean the united states should go it alone. i repeat -- this does not mean that the united states should go it alone. we should not. we should seek the active involvement of key arab partners such as saudi arabia, jordan and qatar and willing allies in the e.u. and nato, and most important of which in this case is turkey. there will be no u.n. security council mandate for such an operation. russia and china took that option off the table long ago, but let's not forget nato took military action to save kosovo in 1999 without former u.n. authorization. there is no reason why the arab league or nato or a leading coalition within the friends of syria contact group or all of them speaking in unison could
not provide a similar international mandate for military measures to save syria today. could such a mandate be gotten? i believe it could be. foreign capitals across the world are looking to the united states to lead, especially now that the situation in syria has become an armed conflict, but what they see is an administration still hedging its bets. on the one hand, insisting that assad's fall is inevitable, but on the other, unwilling even to threaten more assertive actions that could make it so. the rhetoric out of nato has been much more self-defeating. far from making it clear to assad that all options are on the table, key alliance leaders are going out of their way to publicly take options off the table. last week, the secretary-general of nato, mr. rasmussen, said
that the alliance has not even discussed the possibility of nato action in syria, saying -- quote -- "i don't envision such a role for the alliance." the following day, the supreme allied commander, admiral james stavridis, testified to the senate armed services committee that nato has done no contingency planning, none, for potential military operations in syria. that's not how nato approached bosnia or kosovo or libya. is it now the policy of nato or the united states, for that matter, to tell the perpetrators of mass atrocities in syria or elsewhere that they can go on killing innocent civilians by the hundreds of thousands and the greatest alliance in history will not even bore to conduct any planning about how we might stop them?
is that nato's policy now? is that our policy? because that is the practical effect of this kind of rhetoric. it gives assad and his foreign allies a green light for greater brutality. not surprisingly, many countries, especially syria's neighbors, are also hedging their bets on the outcome in syria. they think assad will go but they're not yet prepared to put all their chips on that bet. even less so now that assad's forces have broken homs and seem to be gaining momentum. there is only one nation -- there is only one nation that can alter this dynamic and that is the united states of america. the president must state unequivocally that under no circumstances will assad be allowed to finish what he has started, and there is no future in which assad and his lieutenants will remain control
of syria and that the united states is prepared to use the full weight of our air power to make it so. it is only when we have clearly and completely committed ourselves that we can expect other nations to do the same. only then will we see what is really possible in winning international support to stop the killing in syria. are there dangers and risks and uncertainties in this approach? absolutely. but there are no ideal options in syria. all of them contain significant risk. many people will be quick to raise concerns about the course of action i am proposing. many of these concerns have merit but none so much that they should keep us from acting. for example, we continue to hear it said that we should not assist the opposition in syria militarily because we don't know
who these people are. secretary of state hillary clinton repeated this argument just last week, adding that we could end up helping al qaeda or hamas. it is possible the administration does not know much about the armed opposition in syria, but how much effort have they really made to find out, to meet and engage these people directly? not much, it appears. instead, much of the best information we have about the armed resistance in syria is thanks to courageous journalists, some of whom have given their lives to tell the story of the syrian people. one of these journalists is a reporter working for al jazeera named nir rosen, who spent months in the country, including much time with the armed opposition. here's how he described them recently -- and i quote -- "the regime and its supporters describe the opposition,
especially armed opposition, as salafis, gentlema jihadists, mum brotherhood supporters, al qaeda and terrorists. this is not true but it's worth noting that all the fighters i met were sunni muslims and most were paez. they fight for a multitied of reasons -- multitude of reasons -- for their friends, foyer their neighborhoods, for their villages, for their province, for revenge, for self-defense, for dignity, for their brethren in other parts of the country who are also fighting. they do not read religious literature or listen to sermons. their views on islam are consistent with the general attitudes of syrian sunni society, which is conservative and religious. because there are many small groups in the armed opposition, it is difficult to describe their ideology in general terms. the salafit and muslim brotherhood ideologies are not
important in syria and do not play a significant role in the revolution. but most syrian sunnis taking part in the uprising are themselves devout. he could just as well have been describing average citizens in egypt or libya or tunisia or other nations in the region. so we should be a little more careful before we embrace the assad regime's propaganda abo s we should be more careful o before we embrace assad regime about the opposition in syria we certainly should not let the misconceptions cause us to keep the armed resistance in syria at arm's length because that is just self-defeating. and i can assure you that al qaeda is not pursuing the same policy. they are eager to try to hijack the syrian revolution, just as they have tried to hijack the air be a spring movements in egypt, tune any sha and
elsewhere. they are not eager to trade tyranny. the other reason al qaeda is failing in tunisia and egypt and libya is the communication of nations especially the united states supported them. we are giving them a better alternative. surist way for al qaeda to gain a foothold in syria is for us to turn our backs on these brave syrians who are fighting to defend themselves. after all, sunni iraqis would lie with al qaeda when they were desperate enough. when america gave them an alternative they turned their guns on al qaeda why. should it be different in syria? another objection to providing military assistance to the syrian opposition is that the
conflict has become a sectarian civil war and our intervention would enable the sun ni majority to take revenge against the minori minority. this is a serious and legitimate concern and only growing worse the longer the conflict goes on. as we saw in iraq, or lebanon before it, time favors the hard liners in a conflict like this. the suffering of sunni's the more compelling to find a way to end the bloodshed as soon as for this reason alone, it's all the more compelling to find a way to end the bloodshed as soon as possible. furthermore, the risks of sectarian conflict will exist in syria whether we get more involved or not. and we will at least have some ability to try to mitigate these
risks if we work to assist the armed opposition now. that will at least help us to know them better and to establish some trust and exercise influence with them. because we took their side when they needed it most. captioning performed by vitac diminish the longer we wait to offer them meaningful support. what we can say for certain is that we will have no influence whatsoever with these people what we can say for certain is that we will have no influence whatsoever with the people if they feel we have abandoned them. real, moral dilemma. but we cannot allow the opposition in syria to besent w worry about the future. we also hear by the administration we should not contribute to the